Behind each of the carefully crafted images is an inspired and skilled performance. A major part of the lure for the actors chosen for the film was Hergé's inimitable characters, each with their own memorable quirks and foibles that had never been so deeply inhabited before. They include:
Tintin and Snowy
To play the iconic role of the intrepid, boyish reporter who has mirrored countless dreams of adventure, the filmmakers chose Jamie Bell. "Jamie's performance in Billy Elliot was astonishing to me, not just the subtlety of his acting, but the tremendous physical performance he gave," Spielberg notes. "Peter and I both thought he had all the right qualities for Tintin."
Growing up in England, Bell had been a Tintin fan since childhood. "There's something about Hergé's art that leaves an imprint on you. It's unforgettable," he muses. But now, he had the chance to imprint the character with tangible, human emotions and that thrilled him.
Screenwriter Joe Cornish says that Bell captures Tintin in the mold of the classic Spielberg Everyman - an ordinary kid who finds how extraordinary he can be when life demands it. "To me, he's like a child's idea of what it's like to be a teenager," Cornish says. "He can do amazing things, yet he maintains an innocence and an insatiable curiosity about the world, a sense that he's looking for a way to do the right thing in any situation. You feel like anyone can aspire to be Tintin because all you need is the knowledge, the interest and the pureness of heart that takes him through these adventures."
For Bell, this aspirational quality was the way into the character, taking him far beyond the forelock quiff in his hair that is his trademark. "When you see a young person who is so fearless and so adventurous the way Tintin is, it's everything you want to be yourself," he says. "Tintin is a very driven character, a very moral character, and I admire that. He will get to the bottom of things no matter what. But sometimes he's wrong and that's when he has to trust in Snowy."
Snowy, of course, is Tintin's trusty terrier and sometimes savior. Cornish calls Snowy "almost an embodiment of Tintin's subconscious" and the trick was animating the character to be both that and just a smart, funny little dog. Though Hergé often ascribed thought bubbles to Tintin's canine friend, Spielberg felt they could bring Snowy to life in a richly expressive way without that textual effect.
"I think sometimes Tintin makes a great sidekick to Snowy, rather than the other way around," Spielberg remarks of the much-loved character. "But we decided that if there's any reality to Tintin at all, it's that the dog doesn't talk."
When Tintin buys a model of the lost ship The Unicorn at a local market, he finds within it a secret that will land him on a hijacked sea freighter called the Karaboudjan, and, ultimately, introduce him to an unlikely but lifelong friend: Captain Haddock, a crusty ocean veteran with seawater in his veins and a bottle of whiskey never far away, who will become at once a foil for Tintin and his rough-and-tumble partner in adventure, through thick and thin. The Captain has long been a favorite of Tintin fans - the gritty contrast to Tintin's idealism with his endlessly colorful utterances ("Blistering barnacles!" "Thundering typhoons!") and most of all, a generous, die-hard friend to Tintin. "Haddock appears at first to be the last guy in the world you'd want tagging along on a dangerous escapade," says Jackson. "But Tintin sees something else in him. I think Tintin sees the goodness in this man and understands who he can become."
To play Haddock, Jackson suggested an actor he knew had what it would take to embody all the dynamics of the role: Andy Serkis. "Knowing Andy as well as I did, I knew he'd be absolutely terrific, so I arranged for him to meet Steven, who saw right away what he could bring to it," he says. Spielberg adds: "Andy and Jamie had fantastic chemistry as this iconic pairing of a youthful, moral straight shooter and an old, reprobate sea captain. They're complete opposites, yet Captain Haddock brings many lessons to Tintin's life, and Tintin really gives Haddock a chance to redeem himself."
Serkis, who has been a fan of the comic since childhood, decided to give his character, whose origins are open to interpretation, a Scottish brogue that sets the tone for his journey. "It seemed appropriate that Haddock should have a kind of rawness and emotional availability," Serkis explains. "He's a great seaman and has great potential as a human being, but he's kind of lost in self-pity, and it is Tintin, this boy, who helps him realize that he can connect with other people again."
Sakharine, Thompson & Thomson and More…
Captain Haddock's turn-about comes as he and Tintin try to evade the threat of the film's irascible villain: Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, who believes Tintin has unwittingly stolen the secret of The Unicorn and its long-lost treasure. Taking on the nefarious role is Daniel Craig, best known to filmgoers in the role of the far more noble British spy James Bond. Craig, who has garnered equal acclaim for his dramatic work in a wide variety of films, previously collaborated with Spielberg in the political thriller Munich. But he had never taken on a character quite like Sakharine before.
He relished the chance to cut loose with the mercurial bad-man. "I had a lot of fun with Sakharine, and tried to make him as evil and twisted and strange as I possibly could," he says.
Adding further antics to Tintin's adventures are Thompson & Thomson-two detectives distinguishable only by the shapes of their moustaches and the letter "p" in one of their names. To play the pair of ham-handed investigators the filmmakers immediately had one common thought in mind: the comic team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have brought their irreverent sensibilities to such hit films as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. "Peter and I knew we wanted to cast a team as Thompson & Thomson," Spielberg says. "Then Peter suggested Simon and Nick, who are uniquely funny together and a wonderful addition to the cast."
Pegg and Frost realized they could have a blast with the detective duo. "We have a certain kind of synchronicity that fed into playing these two bumbling partners," Pegg allows. "They're in the great tradition of silent movie stars like Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. They're fastidious but ultimately faltering, and though they consider themselves to be the greatest detectives in the world, they're clearly the worst. So, we got to do a lot of silly stuff." They also had an opportunity to do what they do best: let their natural comic rapport unfold in the moment. "The difficult thing as actors was thinking about what the Thom(p)sons would do in between each panel," Frost explains. "That's where lots of characterization came in for us."
Throughout the film, the Thompson & Thomson are in the throes of what is, for them, hot pursuit of a pickpocket, Aristedes Silk, a role taken by Toby Jones, who played Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter series. Silk, says Jones, is in it for love rather than evil. "He's someone who enjoys the art of pickpocketing because he loves wallets. There's something very moving, in a way, about his passion for pickpocketing. He's the classic example of the Hergé idea that someone may look like a terrible person, but not be one at all," he explains.
Also figuring into the plot is Nestor, the loyal butler at the storied manse of Marlinspike Hall, played by character actor Enn Reitel. "Like so many butlers, he knows where all the skeletons are hidden, but also like all butlers, he has incredible loyalty to his master, which, at least for the moment, is Sakharine," says Reitel (who also plays the merchant who sells Tintin a dangerous ship model).
Rounding out the story's cast of criminals are a pair of thugs, Allan and Tom, played by Daniel Mays and Mackenzie Crook, and the wealthy merchant Ben Salaad, played by Moroccan-born actor Gad Elmaleh. The popular French actor/comedian, whose father was a mime, relished the body language Spielberg encouraged him to bring to the role. "It felt, to me, like the Comedia Dell'arte, the great Italian stage comedies," he says. "I grew up in this culture and love it, and Steven wanted me to express Ben Salaad in this tradition. It was a gift."
"Gad brought a great energy to the film," Kathleen Kennedy says. "He's treacherous but, in keeping with Hergé's take on things, funny and strangely loveable at the same time."
Another fixture from the Tintin books - the imperious, glass-shattering opera singer Bianca Castafiore -- is played by Phantom of the Opera diva Kim Stengel. ""As we developed the script, we weren't deliberately trying to write her into the story," explains Jackson. "It just happened that there was a role that was perfect for her, so she ended up in the movie in a way that is quite delightful."
Other Tintin characters who make appearances in the film include Tintin's landlady Mrs. Finch (Sonja Fortag); Lt. Delacourt (Tony Curran); and the only American character in the film, Barnaby, a detective trying to warn Tintin of the danger he's getting himself into, played by comic actor Joe Starr.
One common thread seemed to run throughout the international cast: a sheer love for the books and a passion to be part of the film. "We all have something in our childhood that touches us," sums up Cary Elwes, who takes on the role of an attacking pilot. "For me, it was Tintin."